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Thursday, 20th Feb 2020

Green budget amendment tackles transport and climate crisis

Green councillors have submitted a budget amendment to next week’s Budget Full Council to boost the Council’s work to tackle the climate emergency. The amendment allocates almost £10m for the housing department to dramatically scale up ‘retrofitting’ improvements and renewable energy schemes on council houses. It also proposes training council staff and apprentices to install low carbon and green technologies like heat pumps. To tackle the city’s gridlocked traffic system as well as the climate crisis, the amendment earmarks over 12 million pounds for transport improvement works in the city, focusing on local walking and cycling improvements.

In order to help fund transport improvements Greens propose a congestion charge on out-of-town drivers which could raise over £6m per year, and starting work on plans for a charge on companies that provide private workplace parking (a workplace parking levy). Cardiff council is planning a similar congestion charge to boost its transport plans and in Nottingham a workplace parking levy has raised over £44 million in 5 years, used to fund the city’s tram network.

As well as raising funding for transport improvements such as making buses faster and cheaper or pedestrianising parts of the city, these changes would reduce the number of private cars in the city centre, thereby improving air quality, reducing carbon emissions, reducing bus journey delays and making it easier for people to walk and cycle.

"After years of talk with no action from politicians, Bristol is crying out for practical answers to the city’s problems."

Leader of the Green Group, councillor Eleanor Combley said:

After four long years, in the Labour administration’s final budget, the sense of urgency to tackle Climate Change is still lacking. And where are the big ideas to unstick our transport system and get our city moving again? After years of talk with no action from politicians, Bristol is crying out for practical answers to the city’s problems.

“In our amendment to the budget we have proposed simple and necessary work to reduce our climate impact and tackle long-standing problems for Bristol. Adding solar panels and battery storage to council houses and improving their heat efficiency will lower people’s energy bills and carbon emissions, and generate green energy for Bristol, while creating much needed employment. We’ve found funding to train up council workers with the skills the city’s going to need to install green technology like heat pumps. To address years of stagnation in Bristol’s transport, we’re allocating money to make walking and cycling improvements actually happen rather than leaving it to the lottery of grant applications.

“Finally, we’re proposing action to deal with our city’s interlinked problems of air pollution and traffic chaos. Ultimately you cannot tackle either of these without addressing the root cause: there are just too many private vehicles in the centre of town. Our amendment would fund better buses, raising millions of pounds to improve public transport – through introducing a congestion charge for those driving into Bristol from out of town. This addresses the gridlocked traffic system that costs buses more and stops them running on time. 

“If accepted at the budget meeting our amendment would help get Bristol moving again and take urgent action to address the climate crisis. As opposition councillors we do what we can for Bristol, but at the end of the day we need leadership in this city that deep down understands these issues and treats them as priorities rather than window dressing.”

More information on the Green amendment is below. For full details, see pages 210 to 212 in the reports pack submitted to the council meeting here. Update: see also the attached document.

Cycling and walking improvements

These measures would set money aside for cycling and walking infrastructure each year to ensure it is delivered, as opposed to the current approach which bids for small pots of government funding as and when it is available.

Bristol’s current piecemeal approach to cycling and walking infrastructure is in part due to its reliance on small one-off pots of grant funding, released occasionally by central government. While the Council’s transport plans in theory prioritise cycling and walking, in practice money is frequently set aside for roads and not for the other infrastructure. The Green amendment would deal with this and guarantee delivery by setting £8.75m aside over five years for cycling and walking infrastructure projects identified in the Council’s recent Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan.

On top of this in year 5 (2024/25) the Greens expect revenue from the congestion charge to be available and from this would allocate an extra £4 million for local transport improvements. This could include new bike lanes, low-traffic neighbourhood schemes, pedestrian-only areas, making changes to roads to speed up bus journey times or subsidising bus routes and reducing ticket costs.

Retrofitting Council houses with insulation, solar panels and battery storage, plus upskilling council staff

These measures would help tackle the climate emergency by insulating much more council housing to good standards, piloting solar panels and battery storage to council buildings, and training council staff and hiring apprentices to install renewable energy and low carbon technologies such as heat pumps.

The Green amendment would allocate £9.9m to the Housing Revenue Account (HRA) to scale up retrofitting work and piloting renewable energy projects with Bristol’s council housing stock. Just over a quarter (around 27%) of council homes have an energy efficiency rating of D or below, which means higher carbon emissions and energy bills for residents. The Green amendment would prioritise these first, before moving onto the thousands more with a rating of C. Retrofitting work would improve insulation, but also look at preventing overheating which will become more of an issue in the coming years. The amendment would also scale up a planned trial of solar panels and battery storage on council housing. This would reduce people’s energy bills as well as generate green energy for the city with surplus electricity.

At the same time, the amendment provides funding to train council staff on changing low carbon and renewable energy technologies, so the Council can complete installation and maintenance in-house, and hire up to twelve apprentices in those areas, helping to develop a workforce in Bristol which is able to fill the skilled Green jobs of the future.

Congestion charge and Workplace parking levy

These measures would reduce private car use in the city centre and raise money to fund improvements to public transport or for cycling and walking infrastructure.

A congestion charge would apply only to commuters from outside Bristol. A similar charge is being introduced by Cardiff Council to support a package of transport changes including cheaper bus fares. Last year finance officers approved Green calculations that this could generate over £6 million in revenue each year. In order to reduce the cost this scheme could use the same number-plate recognition cameras the council is already buying for its clean air plans.

Greens also propose funding a feasibility study to build on previous work and take the next steps towards a workplace parking levy. This would introduce a charge on employers in Bristol who provide private workplace parking. (Frequently this is provided as a perk to some of their highest paid employees.) Nottingham used the revenue generated by their scheme to double the size of their tram network and fund other transport work, generating over £44 million between the scheme launch in 2012 and 2017.

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